Teach people what they actually want to know

Apr 16 2012 by Wayne Turmel Print This Article

Have you ever been frustrated with trying to train your team members or employees on technology? When you mention training do you get heavy sighs and eye rolls? I heard a great idea yesterday, an elegant solution to an old problem: how about we teach people what they actually want to know?

I love when my clients and audiences are smarter than I am (which given the odds in favor on any given day is a very good thing). I was giving a presentation yesterday on overcoming the dreaded Hype Cycle that seems to haunt most technology launches. When I asked the audience what they've done to help people speed up the time it takes to adopt a piece of software and the quality of the work they do with it, one of the women in the audience spoke up.

She was a IT project manager who was sick and tired of people complaining about the software training she was offering. In desperation she asked them, if you could have the trainer all to yourself, what would you want to learn? The answers were surprising, although they shouldn't have been. People want to learn what they need to know right at that moment to get their job done.

Some people need to start right at the basics. You can imagine how experienced users would react in a class of people whose first question is "where's the ON switch, again?" Training frequently doesn't work because the newbies are intimidated by their more experienced peers and the experienced folks get all cranky because they're having their time wasted.

Many people have simple questions: "how do I find the data I'm looking for right away?" They don't want to know everything the software can do. They frankly don't care. "Teach me to do the one thing I can't do now and I'll figure out the rest when I get there."

So caught between these two extremes, with numerous points in between, she came up with an elegant solution: everyone gets an hour with a trainer. Ask what you want, learn what you want, but make it good.

The response was amazing. Not only did people like the individual attention, but they learned what they felt was important to them. Those who were comfortable with the software got their questions answered, were happy and went back to work. They were more productive and considerably less miserable than before.

The newbies were able to start where they wanted without feeling like idiots in front of their coworkers. Even Finance was happy, because they weren't losing entire days of productivity.

If you're having heart palpitations about the cost of bringing in trainers all over the place, stop and think about it. One expert can make the rounds of several people in the course of a day. Not all the training needs to be in person, of course. Using WebEx or similar screen sharing tools there are often no travel expenses at all, and you can cover multiple offices in a single day.

More to the point, which is more valuable: training that doesn't cost much, or training that actually works without making people miserable and encourages them to use the tool right away?

What simple learning solutions are lurking in your company to help people adopt tools faster and use them better?

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About The Author

Wayne Turmel
Wayne Turmel

For almost 30 years, Wayne Turmel has been obsessed with how people communicate - or don't - at work. He has spent the last 20 years focused on remote and virtual work, recognized as one of the top 40 Remote Work Experts in the world. Besides writing for Management Issues, he has authored or co-authored 15 books, including The Long-Distance Leader and The Long-Distance Teammate. He is the lead Remote and Hybrid Work subject matter expert for the The Kevin Eikenberry Group. Originally from Canada, he now makes his home in Las Vegas, US.